Mr. Elmer was much interested in all this, and mentally resolved that he would do all that lay in his power to revive the old-time prosperity of the place in which he had established his home.
“What we most need here now,” concluded Mr. Bevil, “is a bridge over the river and a mill. It ought to be a saw-mill, grist-mill, and cotton-gin all in one.”
The next morning Mr. Elmer said that he must go to Tallahassee, the nearest city, on business, and that he might be absent several days. Before going he laid out the work that he wanted each one to do while he was away. Mark was to take him down the river to the railroad station at St. Mark’s, in his canoe, and on his return he and Jan were to go into the woods after as many cedar fence-posts as they could cut. The colored men were to prepare the large cleared field in front of the house, in which were about ten acres, for ploughing, and to dig post-holes around it on lines that he had marked. Captain Johnson and his crew were to unload the lighter and haul all the lumber and shingles up to the house.
When he and Mark went down to the canoe, it seemed to the latter that she was not just where he had left her the day before, and he thought she looked as though she had been recently used; but as he could not be certain, he said nothing about it to his father.
Mr. Elmer took a light rifle with him in the canoe, saying that there was no knowing but what they might find a chance to use it going down the river, and that Mark could bring it back. Mark was glad of this, for he inherited a love for shooting from his father, and having been carefully instructed, was a capital shot.
The day was unusually warm and bright for that season of the year, and as they floated quietly down-stream they surprised a number of alligators lying on the banks sunning themselves. As they were the first of these great reptiles that either Mr. Elmer or Mark had ever seen, they watched them with curiosity not unmixed with fear lest they should attack and upset the light canoe. They afterwards learned that their fears were groundless, and that cases of this kind are almost unknown.
They reached St. Mark’s in time for Mr. Elmer to catch the train, and after he had gone Mark got the mail, of which quite a quantity had collected here for them, there being no post-office in Wakulla, and started for home.
On the way up the river the boy was strangely oppressed by the solitude and almost unbroken silence about him, and was very glad when he found himself within a mile of home.
Suddenly the silence was broken by a cry so terrible and agonized that he was for a moment nearly petrified with fright. He quickly recovered his presence of mind, and the first cry being followed by screams for help and a crashing of the bushes on a small wooded point that jutted into the river just ahead of him, he hastily ran the canoe up to the bank, seized his rifle, and sprang ashore.